Sabatos Crystal Ball


Daily Reports from the Democratic National Convention

Dan Keyserling, Deputy Communications Director, U.Va. Center for Politics August 27th, 2008



On Monday, James Carville said that the Democrats had yet to find their stride, and that in his opinion, the convention began not with a bang, but with a politically lifeless whimper. And he was right. Despite the fact that Michelle Obama delivered a magnificently written speech (go back and read the transcript, especially the penultimate paragraph, and see if you can find a more talented speechwriter working today), most commentators agreed that the Democrats began their convention with messages that were too personal, and not tough enough. Carville and others wanted more “red meat,” as it’s called in politics—in other words, hard-hitting criticism aimed squarely at McCain’s policies.

With no red meat to sate the appetite of Democratic activists for Red, Republican blood, restless pundits began to wonder aloud why Obama had chosen Joe Biden as his running mate. Is he ferocious enough? Will he contribute enough to the ticket? Can he provide the red meat Democrats want? Say what you will about the protein content of Biden’s speech earlier tonight, but only the most hardened curmudgeon could have watched the biographical video and heard Beau Biden’s introduction without tearing up.

That said, Joe Biden gave a fine speech. Not a great one. Not the most elegant or polished or memorable oratory, but a fair representation of what the country can expect from a Vice President Biden—frank, usually loud speeches that use finger pointing as punctuation. But what Biden accomplishes in a couple of sentences, few politicians ever accomplish: he conveyed a sincere, unerring sense of trustworthiness.

Biden’s strength as a speaker, and his eventual worth as a running mate, depends on his ability to maintain that streak of relentless honesty—the cadence and rhythm of telling the truth, and of having the audience identify with, and take part in, his suffering as a father of lost love. A tragic event that would drive most men to the depths of permanent depression drove Biden to renew his commitment to his family, and to enter the Senate at the age of 30. Voters relate to a person who has endured hardship. And they admire courage. Biden’s speech embodied both.

Although he may not have delivered the highest-minded rhetoric, Biden’s speech tonight got the job done. Cries for more red meat aside, tonight’s speech confirmed that the healthiest thing for a party accused of excessive idealism is a heaping serving of good old-fashioned, tell-it-like-it-is honesty.